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Although Avatar: The Last Airbender ended its three-season run back in 2008, Nickelodeon and Dark Horse Comics have teamed up to produce a series of three-part graphic novels featuring Aang and his friends. In The Search, we follow Aang, Katara, Sokka, Zuko, and Azula (yes, Azula!) as they search for Zuko and Azula’s mother, Ursa.
The best thing about The Search is that it actually feels like a continuation of the series. Studio Gurihuru does a superlative job of recreating the art of the series, and Gene Luen Yang’s writing is tight and well-plotted. It is, however, a bit darker than the series, and the humor is more understated.
In Part 2, the Gaang finally makes it to Hira’a, Ursa’s hometown, where they attend a performance of Love Amongst the Dragons (the play that Ursa and her boyfriend Ikem were rehearsing at the beginning of Part 1). After the show, they meet the play’s director, who tells them that Ikem ran off to the Forgetful Valley after Ursa was forced to break up with him. Unfortunately, Ursa remains elusive and, without any other leads, the Gaang decides to head into the heavily forested valley.
As with Part 1, the Gaang’s present-day adventures are intercut with flashbacks. Many of them expand upon flashbacks from the series. For example, we finally learn what “vicious, treasonous things” Ursa did to protect her son from Fire Lord Azulon. While the series strongly implied that she killed him in order to save Zuko, it was never clear why she had to leave so abruptly. Now, fans finally know the truth, and the scene provides a nice bit of character-building for both Ursa and Ozai.
Azula continues to shine in Part 2, and her snark provides some of the comic’s best humor. She also seems to be undergoing a metamorphosis of sorts. She has always been a superb villain, but it was sort of disappointing that, in a show that took great pains to stress that nobody is beyond redemption, her last moments on screen were spent chained to a grate while sobbing hysterically. She never got the chance to join the good guys like Zuko did. But Part 2 dropped some pretty strong hints that Azula might finally ditch her evil ways. At the very beginning of the comic, Azula has another confrontation with a vision of her mother, and the imaginary Ursa tells her that she has always hidden behind a mask of intimidation and fear, but if she can drop the mask, she will finally see “the beauty of [her] true destiny.”
It is interesting to speculate about what, exactly, that destiny might be. We know from The Legend of Korra that the people of the Avatar world eventually learn to bridge their differences and create a new city that draws on the legacies of all four nations. It would be sort of neat if Azula, who was once one of the most angry and aggressive characters in the series, ultimately went on to play a key role in the foundation of Republic City.
All in all, Part 2 of The Search does an excellent job of building on Part 1′s strong foundations while preparing the reader for what promises to be a thrilling denouement.
Image Courtesy of Hypable.com